Although Colorado may lack the solid reputation of other states when it comes to birdwatching, you might be surprised to discover a rich paradise in terms of species variety and habitat diversity. Birders shouldn’t miss a visit to Colorado as it provides some superb backdrops for checking out more than 400 different types of birds. The state has some underrated treasures when it comes to avian life. Colorado’s location makes it an important migration flyway while there are excellent bird habitats such as majestic grasslands and alpine forests.
If you’re interested in the best birds that can be seen in Colorado, take a close look at our special selection that contains some highlight species for this state. Don’t forget to grab some essential pieces of equipment to complete your birding experience:
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- Field Guide
If you want to be truly prepared on your birding adventure, it makes sense to invest in an informative guide that you can quickly access. Digital apps have been getting quite popular recently but most serious birders are still dependant upon paper-based field guides. Consider this excellent field guide for the birds of Colorado.
- Phone Camera Lens Kit
There’s no need to pack your big DSLR camera if you want to travel light on your birding expeditions. An alternative solution is to upgrade the smartphone camera with the help of a phone lens kit. Check out this model that offers multiple lenses such as telephoto, fisheye, super wide-angle, and macro to expand the potential of your smartphone.
1. Downy Woodpecker
Pecking at tree bark or curiously checking out backyard feeders, the downy woodpecker is a fairly common sight in Colorado. This is a small and very active bird that has impressive agility and acrobatic skills. You can often find it perched on small branches or expertly trying to sit balanced on suet feeders. The downy woodpecker is very similar to the hairy woodpecker making it quite hard for inexperienced birders to differentiate between them. One important characteristic that sets them apart is the size as the downy woodpecker is quite tiny. It’s also worth mentioning the bird’s distinctive call that ends in a descending whinny note.
2. Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
If you choose the summer season for your birdwatching trip to Colorado, the broad-tailed hummingbird represents a must-see species. The western part of the state is recommended to get a glimpse of this colorful hummingbird. Aside from flowering meadows, the bird can also be attracted to gardens and backyards with a dedicated feeder for hummingbirds. This bird has a jewel-like appearance while creating metallic trills in flight. Males are more distinctive thanks to the beautiful magenta throat used for displaying in their mating ritual.
3. Lark Bunting
The lark bunting is the official state bird of Colorado and is considered a very attractive sparrow. Male buntings show off smoky black plumage that contrasts in a striking manner with the white patch on the upper part of the bird’s wing. Unfortunately, this bird is in steep decline so it’s a bit more difficult to spot it nowadays. Your best bet to see a lark bunting is to explore grasslands and shrubsteppe regions. Breeding males aren’t just beautiful to see but lovely to hear as well considering their distinctive flight song.
4. Boreal Owl
The most captivating owl species to see in Colorado is the boreal owl. Visiting the central and western mountains of the state seems like an optimal choice to find this bird in its natural habitat. It prefers high alpine areas making it less accessible for birders but the extra challenge could be worth the effort if you manage to catch the boreal owl in action. Birds tend to sit perched and wait patiently for prey to grab such as small rodents. Considering how it lives in dense forests, it pays off more to listen for the owl’s characteristic hollow hooting sound to locate it.
5. Band-Tailed Pigeon
Band-tailed pigeons are related to common rock pigeons but prefer living in forests and mountainous regions instead of towns. This large dove can be observed during the breeding season in the southern parts of Colorado. Small populations can spread to other regions of the state as well. As the name of the bird suggests, the easiest way to identify it is to check for a dark tail band. The tail is also longer compared to other species of pigeons. Another characteristic feature is the white neck crescent right above a green iridescent patch.
6. Golden Eagle
A large and agile predator, the golden eagle shows off its majestic hunting abilities in the state of Colorado. The bird gets its name due to the presence of brilliant gold feathers gleaming on the neck. Golden eagles soar on steady wings in the search for small mammals to grab with its powerful talons. This striking eagle can be found in Colorado’s mountainous areas. Aside from its distinctive plumage, you can recognize a golden eagle just from its considerable size and the regal air of a raptor.
7. White-breasted Nuthatch
Bird feeders in various regions of Colorado can be frequently visited by this little agile bird. The white-breasted nuthatch shows off characteristic markings in shades of gray and black that contrast with the white underside as well as head and throat patches. As this is a nuthatch bird, it has a habit of removing the contents of nuts and acorns by pounding them with the help of its strong bill. You can catch this bird in action as it tries to jam the nut in tree bark to perform this job.
8. House Finch
With a cheerful red head and pleasant twittering song, the house finch is commonly encountered in cities in the state of Colorado. They can handle urban life but you might also find the bird present in grasslands. Male birds show off the colorful red appearance. Colorado residents are often greeted by the house finch’s melodious song in their backyards due to the bird’s tendency to visit feeders. These birds tend to travel in noisy groups so there shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to spot one.
9. Black-billed Magpie
Found throughout western North America, black-billed magpies are particularly noisy birds that are hard to miss. They have a preference for sitting on fenceposts or the tops of trees. Black-billed magpie show off impressive plumage colors that are especially noticeable in flight. The wings exude a sense of elegance due to a blue-green iridescent sheen that appears in the right lighting conditions. This bird can also be easily identified by its long tail and hefty bill. Black-billed magpies can often gather in brushy areas and open woodlands but are also commonly found in small towns.
10. Greater Sage-Grouse
A spectacular bird that’s often sought out by birders, the greater sage-grouse is a must-see species in the state of Colorado. In the spring season, multiple greater sage-grouse birds can be encountered in the state’s grasslands where they engage in characteristic mating displays. Male birds try to attract females by showing off their starburst tails and expanding their yellow air sacs in the chest while creating characteristic sounds. When not displaying, greater sage-grouse birds have a chubby look with speckled brown and gray plumage.
11. Mountain Plover
Mountain plovers have become a rare sight in their entire range as their typical prairie habitat has been reduced for agricultural expansion. With some effort and patience, you can find this adorable bird in Colorado. Despite its name, it’s actually not encountered in mountainous areas but wide-open spaces such as dry plains and grasslands. The eastern part of the state seems to be a better choice to increase your odds of seeing mountain plovers. Due to its small size and sandy appearance, the bird can blend easily with the surrounding landscape so it’s recommended to pack a spotting scope with your other birding gear.
12. Barrow’s Goldeneye
There’s a nice variety of duck species that can be observed by birders visiting the state of Colorado. One of the rarer birds to look for is Barrow’s goldeneye. This duck is certainly an attraction for birdwatching enthusiasts considering its striking purplish head adorned with a distinctive white crescent. When it comes to finding this bird, it’s a good idea to check out holes in trees that are often chosen as nesting places. Barrow’s goldeneye birds can be encountered close to forested mountain lakes or along inland rivers.
13. Audubon’s Yellow-Rumped Warbler
A subspecies of the yellow-rumped warbler, Audubon’s represents an interesting bird to look for in Colorado. It used to be lumped together with another subspecies called Myrtle under the general name yellow-rumped warbler. Now it turns out that Audubon’s subspecies is truly a separate species that’s worth observing in the western region of the US. You can differentiate this warbler from the Myrtle species by looking for specific details such as the yellow throat patch. Audubon’s yellow-rumped warbler doesn’t show the characteristic white eye stripe of the Myrtle.
14. Lazuli Bunting
One attractive bird that can be spotted in Colorado is the Lazuli bunting. As you can expect from the name, this is a brilliantly colored bird that features a gemstone blue shade in its breeding season. The color scheme is completed by an orange chest patch but only male buntings have this attractive look. This bird has a squeaky song that can help you recognize it. Lazuli buntings spend a lot of time in brushy hillsides but can be found in gardens or backyards at feeders.
15. Bullock’s Oriole
Bullock’s oriole is a brightly colored bird that’s fairly widespread in the western part of the United States. It can be seen in Colorado during its breeding season but it’s more likely to hear it considering its exceptional vocal qualities. Both males and females sing using sweet notes sometimes mixed with harsher tones. Adult Bullock’s orioles show off a flame-orange appearance with a deeply contrasting black eye patch. Females have a duller shade of yellow and washed gray instead of black. The best areas to look for these birds are open woodlands.
16. Bohemian Waxwing
With a black mask and distinctive rusty undertail patch, the Bohemian waxwing is another favorite of birders in Colorado. You can differentiate from the more common cedar waxwing by checking for white marks on its wings. The Bohemian waxwing eats insects but will wander a lot in the search for fruits outside the breeding season. The bird has a regal appearance thanks to its characteristic spiky crest. You can encounter large groups of the social Bohemian waxwing in Colorado. Parks with fruiting trees can often seem inviting for these birds.
17. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Although blue-gray gnatcatchers have a fairly extended range, these are not particularly abundant birds. It’s a tiny bird specializing in eating insects in broadleaf forests and scrublands. The name of this gnatcatcher comes from its blue-gray appearance. It has the habit of flicking its long tail to scare insects and hunt for them. Due to its reduced size and fairly tall habitat, it can be a bit challenging to get a good view of a blue-gray gnatcatcher. Aside from investing in performant binoculars, it’s recommended to listen for the bird’s wheezy, rambling song and persistent squeaky calls.
18. Steller’s Jay
Part of the same family with crows and magpies, Steller’s jay birds can stand out due to their scolding calls that have a scratchy tone. This bird shows off a graceful flight style and some eye-catching visual qualities such as the large crest and half black half brilliant blue plumage. Steller’s jays live in evergreen forests but they can also visit backyards or campgrounds in the search for different food sources. Similar to crows, these birds can be quite aggressive and noisy and will constantly seek opportunities for stealing food.
19. Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous hummingbirds are frequent visitors to flower-filled parks or backyard feeders in Colorado. The male bird comes dressed in a striking rusty-orange plumage that helps with the identification. It’s not always easy to predict the right time to find this hummingbird as it has the habit to constantly move around the continent despite its wide range. Rufous hummingbirds will visit hummingbird feeders but keep in mind that it can often attack other hummingbirds and defeat even larger ones.
20. Northern Flicker
A casual walk through Colorado’s open woods or at the edge of the forest can reveal many attractive sights for birders. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon a northern flicker woodpecker. This bird grabs the attention through its patterned black-scalloped plumage. With the help of its unusual-looking curved bill, the northern flicker forages for insects. A flash of red can be spotted on the bird’s wings during flight. Eastern northern flickers can have slight color differences that distinguish them from their western counterparts. The red nape and yellow shafts are some distinctive traits.
21. Brown-Capped Rosy-Finch
Found primarily in Colorado, the brown-capped rosy-finch is best observed in the winter season. A search along Colorado’s mountains can reveal this bird year-round. Due to its fairly limited range and mountainous living habitat, this finch species can be quite challenging to see. It’s on the red watch conservation list. You can recognize the bird by its distinctive brown cap and pinkish underparts. A ground forager, the brown-capped rosy-finch prefers eating seeds. For this reason, it can be attracted to backyard feeders. You should try searching for it in barren rocky areas where it’s likely to find related finches such as the gray-crowned rosy-finch.
22. American Dipper
A unique aquatic songbird with an understated look, the American dipper has an important year-round presence in Colorado. The bird has a chunky appearance and you can usually find it close to shallow rivers and streams. It feeds on various aquatic invertebrates that are often caught as the bird walks on the bottom of the stream. American dippers prefer nesting along streams due to the reliable protection from predators. Thanks to its low metabolic rate and thick plumage, this bird is able to survive harsh winters and hunt in cold water.
23. Clark’s Grebe
Most birders who choose Colorado as their destination aren’t doing so for watching water birds. This state doesn’t have an impressive selection in this department but Clark’s grebe is an exception. The southern regions of Colorado are populated by many of these grebes, especially marshes and lakes. To recognize this bird, you can observe the sinuous neck and angular head that represent the most distinctive features of Clark’s grebe. During the breeding season, the male birds engage in courtship displays that resemble ballet dancers in water.
24. Lewis’s Woodpecker
This is a more unusual woodpecker as it doesn’t behave as you’d expect from this type of bird. Lewis’s woodpecker shows off flight patterns similar to crows while being an aerial forager in the search for insects. There are lots of Lewis’s woodpeckers in central and western parts of Colorado. Some of the preferred habitats of this bird include woodlands and pine forests. It’s not surprising if you find this woodpecker wandering around nomadically. Your best bet to see the bird is during the breeding season lasting from late spring to mid-summer when it’s not as unpredictable. Look for the characteristic pink belly and dark green back of the woodpecker.
25. Spotted Towhee
Favoring western thickets and bushes, the spotted towhee is a common resident of Colorado. This striking sparrow shows off spotted patterns and draws attention through its blend of orange, black, and white hues. The rusty flanks stand out against the rest of the bird’s body but make it more camouflaged against dry leaves on the ground. As spotted towhees spend most of their time foraging among leaf litter on the ground, they’re not easy to detect visually. It’s usually better to listen for their distinctive cat-like calls and rapid songs.
26. Purple Martin
Purple martins are native to Colorado and are considered the largest swallows in the US. While the natural habitats of these birds are lakes and ponds, you can also find purple martins chirping on rooftops in urban areas. An acrobatic aerial forager, the purple martin will usually hunt insects at higher altitudes compared to other swallows. Adult males have dark blue-purple plumage with iridescent qualities while females are chunkier with a gray collar around their necks. With the help of a special house for purple martins, you might be able to get a close look at these birds right in your backyard.
27. American Kestrel
Despite being a tiny falcon with an adorable appearance, the American kestrel is actually a strong predator rivaling the fierceness of larger raptors. The colorful plumage of this bird makes it stand out among other raptors. There’s a dapper contrast provided by the rusty back and tail patches against the steel-blue wings and head. You can watch the American kestrel hunting insects or small animals in open grasslands. It’s recommended to scan farmland areas where this small predator bird can be found perched on poles or wires.
28. Yellow-breasted Chat
Widespread in the shrubby habitats of Colorado, the yellow-breasted chat performs distinctive songs in the spring. It’s not as active in other periods of the year as the bird is busy foraging dense thickets for insects. The yellow-breasted chat is part of the warbler family though it doesn’t really look like a warbler. It’s larger and offers a diverse repertoire of songs. Visual identification is done easily by checking for the characteristic bright yellow breast of the bird but also by looking for white circles around the eyes.
29. Curve-billed Thrasher
The curve-billed thrasher doesn’t make a huge appearance in Colorado but it can be found in small habitats in southern areas of the state. This is a medium-sized thrasher whose decurved bill makes it specialized in hunting insects. A common sight in the desert regions of Mexico, the curve-billed thrasher has a specific whistled call that’s easy to recognize even by amateur birders. It can be usually identified just from vocalizations but it’s highly recommended to locate it visually as certain birds like the northern mockingbird can imitate the thrasher’s call.
30. Belted Kingfisher
Thanks to many interesting qualities, the belted kingfisher is a charismatic presence in Colorado. This bird has great appeal for birders as it often makes energetic flight shows and creates distinctive rattles. It lives close to rivers and shorelines where it feeds on fish and crayfish. The bird’s capable physique and the hefty bill allow it to hunt its prey with great effectiveness. Aside from the loud calls, the easiest way to identify a belted kingfisher is by checking for its ragged crest and powdery blue-gray plumage. Birds can be sometimes seen a considerable distance away from water as they travel over forests and fields.